Defending his committee’s work against criticism that its findings have been inconsequential, Assemblyman and co-chair John Wisniewski today argued that the Select Committee on Investigation’s most recent report actually reveals several “unmistakable” conclusions regarding the individuals and events surrounding last year’s George Washington Bridge lane closings.
Speaking to PolitickerNJ not long after copies of the document leaked to members of the press, Wisneiwski said the “interim” report is an important step in the committee’s yearlong investigation into the controversy, colloquially known as Bridgegate.
“It’s an interim report because the work of the committee is not done. But we have been in one sense on an enforced hiatus because we’ve been honoring our commitment to not interfere with Mr. Fishman’s investigation,” Wisniewski said, referring to the the U.S. attorney’s own federal investigation into Bridgegate. “So until such time that he has either concluded his work or signaled to us that the individuals we’re interested in are now able to be interview, this is an appropriate step, because it encapsulates and summarizes not only the work of the legislative investigative committee but also the predecessor work by the Assembly Transportation Committee.”
The 136-page report, prepared and submitted to members of the joint legislative committee yesterday by attorney Reid J. Schar from Jenner and Block, details the tentative findings of the body’s yearlong investigation into what many suspect to be the politically-motivated closings of commuter lanes at the mouth of the George Washington Bridge in September 2013. Pulling from sworn testimony, private interviews and thousands of documents subpoenaed by the committee, the report ultimately concludes that the committee is not in a position to state whether Governor Chris Christie, who some have accused of possibly orchestrating the stunt, “himself knew about the lane closures” at the bridge or “when and how his knowledge of these events developed.”
“While there is evidence that the Governor was informed of the lane closures while they were in progress, the committee cannot evaluate the reliability of this evidence as it has yet to hear from the witness – [former Port operative David] Wildstein – who has claimed to have contemporaneously told the governor of the closures,” the report notes.
But Wisneiwski said that contrary to the criticisms many have levied since its release — including members of the joint committee itself, like Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, who in a statement late Thursday confessed “to confusion as to why we’re even considering releasing a report now, when we simply don’t – and can’t – know the answers to the question of motivation” — the report does shed light events and correspondences that suggest there’s more to the story than what’s already been publicly disclosed. Highlights of the report, he said, include evidence that the governor knew of the lane closures while they were in progress (David Wildstein, a Port Authority executive at the time and close Christie ally, has alleged he told Christie of the closures at an event at the World Trade Center Memorial on the day traffic was jammed), as well as evidence that shows the Christie’s office going “into overdrive while trying to address the growing course of concerns about what happen on the bridge” with a number of “frantic” phone calls made after the controversy went public in December.
Wisniewski said there is also the matter of Regena Egea, an aide to Chrisite at the time, who during testimony in front of the committee this summer confessed to sending a text message to Christie about a hearing involving Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye and former Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni. Wisniewski points out that phone records since subpoenaed by the committee actually show several messages were traded between Egea and Christie — a “13 message dialogue of what appears to be a blow-by-blow account of the testimony with the governor responding,” he said.
“Certainly it paints a different picture than the explanations that have so far been given by the governor’s office,” Wisniewski said.
Wisneiwski, who has been named as a possible 2017 gubernatorial candidate, said the report offers the most “factually accurate chronology of events put forward” thus far, and that the committee doesn’t plan on ceasing its investigation until it hears from the major players — namely Wildstein and Bridget Kelly, the Christie staffer who sent the now notorious “time for some traffic problems” email.
“There are minor steps the committee can consider going forward but the larger, major unanswered issues out there are issues that are best addressed by having some of these individuals come before the committee and testify,” he said.
Later, he took aim at Christie, who has publicly denounced the committee’s investigation. In September, the Republican said it’s time its members “wrap up” their work.
“Look, the governor has spent a significant amount of time outside the state traveling as he campaigns for president of the United States,” Wisniewski said. “The governor himself has asked that this matter go away. It was his administration that created this issue. It was his administration that — and if you read the report — it was his administration that has been less than fully cooperative in responding to the committees inquiries — unnecessarily dragging out our investigation. You don’t get to stone wall and then say, what’s taking so long?”
Christie, who is in Canada today on a two day trade mission, has yet to respond to the report, which wasn’t expected to be released to the public until Monday. The governor’s attorney, however — whose own report into the issue earlier this year absolved the governor of wrongdoing — did comment, telling the Associated Press that “the committee has finally acknowledged what we reported nine months ago — namely, that there is not a shred of evidence Governor Christie knew anything about the GWB lane realignment beforehand or that any current member of his staff was involved in that decision.”
Wisniewski said if “the governor is worried that this investigation might have some negative impact on his presidential ambitions, then he probably ought to think, or rethink, his presidential ambitions.”